It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Dr. Paul R. Epstein, a pioneer in the area of climate change and health, and a longtime friend of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Dr. Epstein passed away on Nov. 13 at his home in Boston due to lymphatic cancer. He was 67.
Dr. Epstein began his career as a primary care physician working primarily in low-income communities in the United States, but also as a medical volunteer in Africa. In 1993, he helped found the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard, at a time when the impact of climate change on human health was just beginning to be discussed. He served as the center’s associate director and, from the early 1990s onward, published articles on subjects including the health effects of greenhouse emissions, climate warming and mosquito-borne diseases, and the potential for coal-burning plants to increase rates of asthma.
He was among the first authors to write regularly on the health impact of what he referred to as “marine pollution,” including the movement of microorganisms such as Vibrio cholerae via ballast water in ships. He studied the relationship between warming oceans and cholera epidemics as well as the impact of warmer oceans on the frequency and duration of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles. His eclectic interests also extended to children’s environmental health and land mines as a public health problem. He was a true pioneer in a number of areas of environmental health and communicable disease control.
Dr. Epstein had many professional and personal friends at PAHO. He spoke fluent Spanish and Portuguese and expressed a fondness for and keen interest in Latin America. He visited PAHO many times to discuss subjects ranging from a NASA project using satellite images to track malaria to the evidence for climate change impacts on health. PAHO’s environmental health experts kept in close contact with him during the preparation of the 1996 IOM/NAS Conference on Human Health and Global Climate Change, the 2002 conference and workshop on Climate Variability and Change and their Health Effects in the Caribbean: Information for Adaptation Planning in the Health Sector, and for a 2008 subregional meeting on health and climate change in Central America, held in Costa Rica.
Paul R. Epstein was born in 1943 in New York City. He received a degree in physics from Cornell University, a medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University.
Dr. Epstein’s passing is a great personal and professional loss for us at PAHO, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, colleagues, and friends.
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago
Pan American Health Organization